A pharmacist’s last apology to humanity
After 50 years of drug dealing, I hereby apologise for causing untold damage to humans.
It was inadvertent, all very scientific and ethical (almost), with doctors prescribing and me dispensing. This was at the behest of multi-national drug conglomerates who coerced, bribed and funded doctors to embark on overseas fact-finding expeditions.
I never got to go overseas but did receive a few pens with drug brand names.
No apology, however, can make up for the thalidomide disaster. This was a safe and effective drug for treatment of morning sickness, but was devastating to embryos.
Sydney doctor William McBride was the first to recognise this. Thalidomide was developed by a German drug company, sold to Distillers in England and marketed under the name Distaval. The same marketing strategies exist today for every newly developed drug — biased research, conflicts of interest, mass marketing to doctors ( allied to bribes and corruption) — and litigation against anyone who protests.
Pharmacists and doctors go along with drug companies’ research. We have not the expertise, the time or the money to buck the system, and the system is a fraud.
The thalidomide case was a real eye-opener, especially for me. It was in 1962, the first year I qualified, and I don’t know how many thalidomide victims I contributed to. Distaval was a very popular drug and a good treatment for morning sickness, but this is where my qualms about drug companies and their lying and fake research started.
William McBride actually reached star-quality, with guest appearances on TV, and in magazines and newspapers. Money poured in and he started Foundation 41, where he continued to do more research into birth defects.
Unfortunately, he followed the same path as Big Pharma, altering figures that didn’t agree with him in his investigation of Debendox. This was bad luck for morning sickness sufferers when Debendox was withdrawn by the company making it — they didn’t want to go through lengthy court cases. I believe it was a very safe and efficient treatment, with no side-effects and no effect on embryos. It was a combination of an antihistamine with Vitamin B6, and its banning was devastating for many morning sickness sufferers.
When pregnant women asked for help, I sold them Doxylamine and Pyridoxine separately. No doctor was involved and this was quite legal since neither was a restricted drug. Women can still take this combination of drugs with safety to them and their unborn child, but the thalidomide experience scared them off, and now they suffer in silence (with the occasional scream).
I also apologise for all the antibiotics I dispensed. Most of these were unnecessary, but doctors (as they do today), felt pressure from their patients to “make them well”, and prescribed something.
We now have drug-resistant bacteria proliferating throughout the world — the bacteria will survive, but probably not us. And it is getting worse , with farmers dosing their animals to increase their weight. Antibiotics are pouring into every ocean, creating more resistance and the occasional fish-monster; steroids are also involved in modern farm practices, so we get very large fish monsters. All drugs are flushed down the toilet, and we are now sitting on a time-bomb of toxic pollution in our soil, rivers, seas and oceans.
On behalf of Big Pharma, I apologise for all the side-effects from modern drugs. Well, they won’t do it since that would be admitting guilt, and litigation reduces shareholder payouts.
Side-effects are rampant and under-reported. Conflicts of interest abound and there is no reliable medical journal you can believe. Over 50 percent of newly released drugs are seriously flawed. The research is carried out by the big drug companies, and this is printed in medical journals without criticism (or perhaps some minor objections to give it an air of authenticity). The only journal I trust is The Cochrane Review, which gives a fair and reasonable account of each drug.
I apologise for dispensing Vioxx. This was a new anti-inflammatory, along with Celebrex, which wasn’t supposed to cause bleeding from the gastrointestinal tract (like all other anti-inflammatories).
It didn’t work. Celebrex and Vioxx both caused bleeding, and Vioxx also contributed to heart attacks. It was hastily withdrawn, money grudgingly refunded, and litigation proceeded. Its maker, Merck, is still in business because all drug makers have contingency funds for drugs that go wrong. The older anti-inflammatories — Ibuprofen, Diclofenac, Naproxen etc., — have now been linked to heart problems.
I apologise for dispensing statins of all types for many years. The great cholesterol myth has been sold to doctors, and now everyone is on them, even children and old people who don’t tolerate them very well. I have seen the damage that the statins do, with muscles severely affected and now they are implicated in memory loss and diabetes. There is no let-up from the medical profession and the drug companies on this one. People crippled and sick with the side-effects of statins get no sympathy from doctors and are dismissed as hypochondriacs or as trouble makers with defective livers.
All people are different, with different rates of metabolism, absorption and excretion. Modern drugs are potent, and livers and kidneys are put under great stress. In fact, the liver treats the drugs as poisons and together with allergens, infections, and chemical pollutants, the load is sometimes too much. This is where the side-effects kick in, particularly for people with wonky livers.
In fact, all humans — and other animals — are different. For instance, asbestos doesn’t always cause mesothelioma or asbestosis. There is a terrible risk there, but the immune system usually copes. The immune system should protect you from all cancers, but sometimes immunity is at fault. This varies greatly among humans and immunology, rather than drugs, should be the basis of future research. But there is no money in it for the big drug companies.
Champix was released in 2007. This was the latest anti-smoking drug. It sometimes succeeded, but giving up smoking always depends on each person’s attitude and psychology. I was never happy with this drug since it again affects brain chemistry, with some unpredictable side-effects. The main one was suicidal ideation, with Pfizer, the maker, now being sued in America for countless suicides. Instead of it being removed from the market, there is now a big black box on Champix saying “This could cause suicide”. Perhaps it would be better if you just smoked yourself to death but this could take longer.
Despite what I’ve said, I have the greatest respect for the medical profession. Doctors don’t have time to treat people properly. Instead, they order endless blood tests and put you on a cocktail of drugs.
These drugs are designed so that patients need to stay on them forever. This is why side-effects are so prevalent. Drugs that were around before Big Pharma started to run the medical system were used for a short time only.
An example is aspirin which was used for a few doses to treat pain and reduce fever. It was well tolerated and safe, but with one side-effect: it sometimes attacked the stomach’s lining, producing bleeding. Most people on short-term dosage were not affected. This should have sent a message to our medical system. However, long term treatment with aspirin is now almost universal as a protection against heart attacks, strokes, cancer and whatever is the disease of the month. Anyone complaining of stomach problems is promptly prescribed Losec, Nexium or any of the other expensive proton-pump inhibitors. In other words, doctors will always add a drug, never subtract it (fear of litigation again).
Doctors now prescribe drugs for everyday use for the rest of your life, treating blood pressure, diabetes, cancers, arthritis and high cholesterol levels. This puts tremendous strain on your liver and kidneys, which are needed to detoxify foreign materials in your body.
I will now give a blanket apology for all doctors and pharmacists who have been driven by Big Pharma and the public’s incessant desire for a “pill to fix me up.”
Inadvertently, doctors and pharmacists have been part of a system that does tremendous harm, much more so than damage caused by illicit drugs.
I have just read a horrifying report from an American panel that constantly reviews the parameters of disease. Nearly all of these parameters have been reduced, so that many more people are now considered to be “diseased”. Blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, cancers, osteoporosis, arthritis and others have been changed, so that we get “pre-diabetes”, “pre-cancer”, “pre-arthritis” , etc. Particularly with cancer, we have a vast configuration of “incidentalomas” (coined by oncologists) which never develop, but are still treated (just in case).
The worrying thing is that over 80 percent of the researchers on this panel are either employed by drug companies, or they have direct conflicts of interest (trips, dinners, symposia, footy-tickets).
The “drug ‘em up” policy will not change unless people realise that prevention is all important. Eat well (in moderation), drink well (in moderation), turn off your mobile phones, computers and TV, and exercise (in moderation). Stop chemical pollution and take any step that improves the environment (or whatever is left of it).
This is the last apology I will ever make.
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About the author
Robert Gosstray is a retired pharmacist and the resident health writer for Midlifexpress. He is the author of The Pharmacist's Secrets: Drugs, lies and money.